We spend around 3,000 hours per year in our beds. Have you ever thought about what your mattress, pillows and blankets are made of and how that might affect you and the environment?
Many people in the western world sleep on mattresses constructed of steel coils surrounded by synthetic foams and polyester fabrics. Memory-foam mattresses use petrochemical-based flexible polyurethane foams, along with natural latex rubber foams. Some bed manufacturers are now adding a synthetic gel as a mattress topper. Most of these mattresses use materials derived from petrochemicals. Is that something we really want to be lying next to for 3,000 hours per year?
Another concern is the fire retardant chemicals used on mattresses. Of course we all want to be protected from the danger of house fires but the chemicals used could be hazardous to our health.
Also consider the waste involved in buying a new mattress and disposing of the old ones. A quality innerspring mattress should last between 7 and 10 years before it needs to be replaced. Memory foam and latex beds should last longer, between 10 and 20 years. Bed manufacturers remind us that we should regularly replace our old beds as mattresses may absorb up to 3 gallons of sweat and other fluids in its lifetime, as well as harboring bacteria and dust mites. But disposing of these large items means that the synthetic materials will remain in the environment for hundreds or thousands of years.
Alternatives to synthetic mattresses include futons or beds made of natural materials like cotton, wool, kapok fiber, latex rubber, animal hair, feathers, and coconut husks. If you are sensitive or have allergies to latex, wool or down, choose your natural bedding very carefully.
Other alternatives to mattresses include hammocks, cots, and woven rope beds from India and Pakistan called charpoy. Hammocks were developed by natives of the Caribbean for sleeping, and later traveled to Mexico and Central America and then were distributed to the Old World by Columbus. Sailors slept in hammocks onboard ships to avoid falling from their bunks in high seas. After sleeping like this onboard sailors often became so used to it that they brought the hammocks ashore to sleep as well. Sleeping suspended off the floor avoids crawling insects and snakes. The hammocks with wooden spreader poles commonly seen in the USA are not stable enough for sleeping. See the list at the end of the article for some purveyors of lovely hammocks that can be used for sleeping.
Waterbeds and airbeds are two other alternatives to traditional mattresses, although they are not much more environmentally friendly as they are made using plastics.
Pillows are usually constructed of a fabric shell encasing synthetic plastic fill, foam, or down feathers.
Pillows covered in cotton and made of feathers are natural and are usually the most comfortable, but many people are allergic to them or just object to the use of feathers. Other alternatives to synthetic fillers include cotton and buckwheat hulls, commonly used as pillow fillings in Asia. Companies are also making pillows stuffed with wool and other natural fibers, take a look at the links at the end of the article.
As pillows can accumulate dust, moisture and microbes, it is recommended that they be regularly cleaned and replaced as needed. Instead of tossing that old lumpy pillow in the trash, clean the filling and reuse it for a decorative cushion for your sofa or a floor pillow to sit on, or even a comfy bed for your pet.
Blankets, duvets, quilts, comforters and sheets are made using a variety of textile types. Blankets are often woven from wool, cotton or a synthetic yarn. Duvets and comforters are typically a cotton sheath encasing a filling composed of down feathers, cotton batting, wool or a synthetic material. Duvets are meant to be used with a removable, washable cover, while comforters might be used on their own with a set of sheets.
It is best to choose natural materials for your sheets like cotton or silk for health and environmental reasons. But remember that growing and processing cotton is one of the most pesticide and chemical heavy activities. So try to choose organic cotton if you can afford it, or buy second-hand sheets and blankets to reduce your impact. I often find wonderful vintage sheets at my local thrift store. The quality is much higher than modern sheets and they are quite a bargain! Sometimes there are small tears or holes, but these can easily be repaired.
Instead of buying polyester blankets, buy wool or cotton, or maybe you can even knit or crochet one yourself! Natural duvets, comforters and quilts can be filled with cotton, wool, feathers or other innovative materials. Down is one of the lightest and warmest materials, but cotton and wool can be very warm too. Some even prefer a heavier blanket for a cozy feeling. Polyester filling is vegan, inexpensive and ubiquitous, but plastics are not so nice for the environment. Check out the links at the end of the article for some better options.
Quilting traditions grew out of the necessity for warm bedding when there was limited access to quality fabrics. Quilts join together scraps of fabric to make larger pieces with old fabric used for warmth in between the layers. If you are crafty and like to sew, make your own quilt or buy an artisan one for a unique look in your home. Look at these beautiful examples of Amish and Hawaiian traditional quilts! You can also find amazing warm woven blankets from around the world from wool and cotton materials.
Below is a list of several companies selling natural mattresses, futons, bedding and pillows:
Coco-Mat: this Greek company sells innovative natural mattresses and bedding worldwide
The Natural Mattress Store: based in San Francisco, this store sells natural latex foam mattresses
NaturaWorld: a Canadian company that sells a range of eco-friendly mattress options, as well as pillows and bedding
Open Your Eyes Bedding: creative, do-it-yourself bedding kits for a unique all natural mattress
Beans72: natural buckwheat pillows
The Futon Shop: sells organic futon-type mattresses
J-Life International: purveyor of traditional Japanese cotton futons and bedding
Katja Futon: sells cotton futons in the Netherlands
Well Hung Hammocks: all kinds of hammocks
Soaring Heart: sells organic and natural pillows, mattresses, futon and shikibuton
Tuft & Needle: traditional style shikibutons, made in the USA
Japanache: provider of traditional Japanese futon in Australia
Naturalmat: all kinds of organic, natural bedding
The Clean Bedroom: makes natural and organic mattresses and bedding
FiberLux: rubberized coconut fiber mattresses
Bad Blankie: cozy, breathable, organic blankets
Loop: organic cotton blankets and sheets
Hammock 2000: Japanese company specializing in hammocks, including organic fabrics
Makura: sells Japanese style buckwheat pillows
Gaiam: organic sheets, comforters and blankets
Handmade Hammocks: offers fairtrade and organic sleeping hammocks
No Feathers Please: no feathers, quills, down, synthetics, plastics or vinyl – just organic cotton, wool, kapok and natural latex rubber
Yucatan Hammocks: cotton hammocks handmade in Mexico
The Wool Bed Company: mattresses, mattress toppers, comforters and duvets all made from natural wool
Hen & Hammock: lovely cotton hammocks made in India